Pope Francis was recovering from intestinal surgery on Wednesday, after a three-hour procedure to treat a hernia that had “no complications,” the Vatican said. It is the second time that Francis has been hospitalized in a little over two months, raising new concerns about his health.
“The Holy Father is well, I think that’s the news that you and the entire world were waiting for,” Sergio Alfieri, the surgeon who led a team of doctors that operated on Francis, told reporters gathered at the hospital Wednesday evening. “He’s fine, awake and alert, and he joked with me not 10 minutes ago.”
The pope, 86, was resting in a 10th-floor suite reserved for popes at the Policlinico A. Gemelli hospital in Rome.
Francis had made an unexpected visit to the hospital on Tuesday for what the Vatican said were routine medical checks. During that visit, Francis underwent a CT scan, Dr. Alfieri said, and the medical team that cares for the pope determined that surgery under general anesthesia was necessary.
“It was not an emergency situation,” he said, but because it was getting more painful, the pope decided to have the operation immediately, “reorganizing his agenda,” he added. “As you know, he decides everything himself.”
Francis, who became pope 10 years ago, has dealt with a number of health issues, including major surgery in 2021 in which doctors removed roughly 13 inches of his large intestine because of inflammation that caused a narrowing of his colon. He now often uses a cane or a wheelchair because of knee problems and sciatica.
Francis held his weekly general audience as scheduled on Wednesday morning in St. Peter’s Square. He appeared serene, shaking hands with the faithful and allowing several children to board the so-called popemobile while he was driven around the square. The Vatican confirmed that the pope’s audiences would be canceled until June 18 as a precautionary measure.
Doctors operated on what is known as an incisional hernia, typically the consequence of previous operations, which Dr. Alfieri, director of abdominal and endocrine sciences at Gemelli, said had been causing painful intestinal occlusions that were getting “continuously more frequent.”
An incision was made into the abdominal wall, and the hernia — which can create discomfort or complications — was treated by applying surgical mesh to the abdominal wall.
Such hernias can occur frequently after abdominal surgery, though other factors like age and weight can increase the likelihood of their development. The hernias can also cause blockages, which can result in abdominal pain, and if they are not treated, they can block the intestine completely.
Dr. Alfieri also performed the 2021 colon surgery.
This is the second time since late March that Francis has been admitted to the Gemelli hospital. That time, he was hospitalized for three days for treatment of bronchitis.
Dr. Alfieri also addressed rumors that the pope might have more serious diseases, telling reporters that it was time to “clarify, once and for all,” that Francis’ surgery on his colon, as well as Wednesday’s operation, were both for “benign pathologies.”
“The pope does not have any other illnesses,” he said.
At the beginning of his pontificate, Francis said he envisioned serving only a few years, and he said on several occasions that he would resign if failing health made it impossible for him to run the church.
But after his surgery in 2021, Francis told a Spanish-language radio station that he had never thought about quitting while experiencing poor health. More recently, he has said he viewed the pontificate as a lifelong mission.
In an interview in January, Francis told The Associated Press that bulges in his intestinal wall had returned. Otherwise, he said, he was in good shape for his age; a fall had led to a slight bone fracture in his knee, but it healed without surgery.
“I’m in good health. For my age, I’m normal,” he said, adding, “I might die tomorrow, but it’s under control. I’m in good health.”
Since his brief hospital stay earlier this year, Francis has carried out a full schedule, often holding several audiences a day. He is scheduled to visit Portugal for World Youth Day events from Aug. 2 to 6, and the Vatican announced on Saturday that he would visit Mongolia from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4.
Dr. Alfieri said that in general, recovery from this specific abdominal surgery took between five and seven days. But he cautioned that given the pope’s age and health issues, including the recent bout with bronchitis, the recovery could take longer. “We will take all precautions,” he said, adding, “give us a few days.”
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